The women who have stepped forward to launch sexual harassment lawsuits against the RCMP got a taste of what they're in for this week.
The force filed a statement of defence in response to allegations made by Corporal Catherine Galliford, who first went public with her claims last year. Her move prompted other female Mounties, some current, some retired, to come forward with their own stories of on-the-job abuse.
Today, four other officers besides Cpl. Galliford have launched legal action, including one retired Mountie on Vancouver Island who is spearheading what her lawyers say is a possible class-action suit that could be joined by more than 100 others claiming mistreatment and various forms of harassment on the job. They should all be steeling themselves for a rough ride.
In its statement of defence in the Galliford case, the RCMP denied virtually all of the high-profile officer's allegations made against various co-workers. (The Mounties agree that one officer was disciplined after a complaint involving Cpl. Galliford). Mostly, the RCMP's response casts the plaintiff as a somewhat disturbed alcoholic who was the one doing the harassing.
Of course, we will have to wait for all of this to play itself out in court. Until then, the allegations, on both sides, remain unproven. But what the RCMP's response demonstrates is that it intends to fight the charges vigorously and get down and dirty in the process, if need be.
It is not a strategy that is foreign to our national police force. You may recall the sad case of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died at Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007 after being tasered repeatedly. It was eventually revealed that the four RCMP officers who were involved in the incident had fabricated parts of their story – a fact that became clear when a bystander video of the incident emerged.
While it was obvious to all that the officers' response at the time was a gross overreaction, the force nonetheless sent a team of investigators at taxpayer expense to Poland to see what it could dig up about Mr. Dziekanski's past. Did he have a drinking problem? Mental issues? Anything, one supposes, that could somehow eat away at the reliability and standing of the victim.
As if any of those things would have had any relevance or bearing on the actions of the four RCMP officers who had Mr. Dziekanski surrounded that night but tasered him repeatedly anyway.
But that's the RCMP for you. They did the same in the case of a robbery suspect, Kevin St. Arnaud, who was shot in Vanderhoof, B.C., in 2004 while in the act of surrendering. The RCMP put together a psychological profile of the victim that inferred that the man had been attempting "suicide by cop." In other words, he wanted the officer to shoot him.
"It's been my experience that the police look into the backgrounds of these individuals not to find evidence of any real value but rather to support a thesis that this man had something in his past that led to his own demise," lawyer Cameron Ward, who has faced off against the RCMP in the courtroom many times, once told me.
Which brings us back to the sexual harassment lawsuits that have been brought against the force. You can bet that Cpl. Galliford won't be the only one of the plaintiffs having to face a tough, perhaps humiliating counterattack by the force. The women's medical and human resources records will be scrutinized – as they were in Cpl. Galliford's case – for anything that might help destroy their credibility.
(Will the lawyers for the plaintiffs be able to similarly access the medical records of the men being accused of harassment?)
I'm sure the Mounties hope that their opening salvo in the Galliford lawsuit gives others considering joining the class action suit pause to reflect; do they want to be potentially subjected to the same thing?
The lawsuits are going to be difficult enough for the women. In many cases, it's their word against those of their fellow officers. Others who may have seen or heard anything incriminating will be under enormous pressure to either keep their mouths shut or to do the right thing and reveal it to authorities. This whole situation could get really ugly.
The final outcome has enormous ramifications for the force, whose leader, Commissioner Bob Paulson, has said he wants to recruit more women.
If the Mounties go after the female officers alleging harassment in a nasty, no-holds-barred way, it could deter a whole generation of young women from wanting anything to do with the force. And who could blame them?